Middle East News
UNHCR: Egypt working on case of Eritrean hostages at Israel border
Dec 7, 2010, 13:50 GMT
Cairo - The Egyptian government is working to locate up to 250 Eritreans allegedly being held hostage by Bedouin smugglers on the border with Israel, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) said Tuesday.
'They have assured us that they are giving this the utmost priority and attention,' Sybella Wilkes of the UN's refugee agency told the German Press Agency dpa.
According to a statement released by the UNHCR, Egypt's Ministry of Interior has assured that round-the-clock efforts are underway to locate the migrants.
Wilkes said that the details surrounding the case have so far all been from second-hand sources and that the UNHCR had very limited information as of yet.
But she said that the UNHCR believes a large group of Eritreans was attempting to illegally cross into Israel through its porous border with Egypt.
Bedouin smugglers in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula allegedly turned sour on their deal to help the group cross over and demanded up to 8,000 dollars from each migrant's family to secure their release.
Wilkes said it was the first time she had heard of such a large number held hostage by Bedouin smugglers, describing it as 'very disturbing.'
For his part, the Pope Benedict XVI urged over the weekend an end to the plight of the migrants who are believed to be held hostage.
A statement released by the UNHCR said that the migrants were being held in containers and are subject to abuses, and that some may have been held for months.
Every year thousands of people attempt to cross the border from Egypt into Israel, often from refugee-producing African countries.
In November, the number of migrants coming from Egypt increased to a record high of 700 per week, according to Israel's Population and Immigration Authority. More than 10,000 people have illegally entered Israel so far this year.
Israel began construction last month on a 240-kilometre barrier along its south-western border with Egypt, mostly aimed at preventing the influx of illegal migrants.
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